Friday, March 09, 2007
Notes on the death penalty and Florida juries
Rick Freedman, a criminal defense attorney in Miami, e-mailed to say that I made a mistake about Florida law on Wednesday night's (March 7, 2006) "360." He's right.

In discussing the upcoming penalty phase in the trial of John Couey, I said that Florida law required juries to be unanimous to impose a death sentence. In fact, Florida is the only state in the country that allows the death penalty to be imposed by a majority vote of the jury; it also allows a judge to override a jury's determination, though the judge is supposed to give great weight to the jury's determination.

This is a controversial and fast-changing area of the law. In the 2002 case of Ring v. Arizona, the Supreme Court said that trial judges alone, without the input of a jury, could not impose the death penalty. All the other states which have the death penalty (and the federal government) have complied with that ruling by holding that a valid death sentence can only come from a unanimous jury finding.

In a recent case, the Florida Supreme Court took the unusual step of asking the state legislature to change the law, writing, "The bottom line is that Florida is now the only state in the country that allows the death penalty to be imposed . . . by a mere majority vote." The Florida legislature hasn't acted -- yet. And the U.S. Supreme Court may yet decide that the juries have to be unanimous in death penalty decisions. Still, for the moment at least, Rick Freedman's point is valid: it will only take a majority vote of the jury, with the trial judge's concurrence, to sentence Couey to death.

Anyone interested in the death penalty should check out the Web site of the Death Penalty Information Center -- www.deathpenaltyinfo.org -- which contains an extraordinary amount of information on the subject.
Posted By Jeffrey Toobin, CNN Senior Legal Analyst: 2:53 PM ET
  2 Comments
I think the death penalty should stay with a unanimous jury vote. This is someones life we are talking about! Everyone deserves a fair trial. There should be no doubt in the guilt or in the sentencing. What if on down the line this person was exonerated but he/she was put to death by a majority vote or a judge that went off on his own. We shouldn't risk that happening.
Posted By Anonymous Cynthia, Covington, Ga. : 3:20 PM ET
As a member of the Madison community I must say that I would prefer the Florida method above that of our great state's method, WE HAVE NONE! I would gladly prefer a simply majority, even a 6-6 votes for the death penalty then the current violation of our civil and intellectual right to sentence another memeber of our society to death. It is a shame that the legislature of this state and for that matter the Florida legislature would consider its citizenry too ignorant to impose the death penalty on another member.
Shame on the Florida Supreme Court for trying to restict such a fundamental right to coice, whether to terminate the life of another, it is our society, our life, or well-being at stack!!!
Posted By Anonymous Brant, Madison, Wisconsin : 5:31 PM ET
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